Title: You Don't Know Me
Artist: Ray Charles
Album: Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music
I must admit I'm not the biggest Ray Charles fan. I can appreciate his music but I don't really need to hear "Hit the Road Jack" or even "Georgia on My Mind" again. But one thing I really admired about Ray Charles was that he was interested in experimenting and found inspiration in sources many would have found questionable. In 1962, Charles set out on a journey to record an album entirely of country standards written by the likes of Hank Williams, Eddy Arnold, Floyd Tillman and others. Charles was able to see a connection between country music and blues, telling a Rolling Stone reporter, "The words to country songs are very earthy like the blues, see, very down. They're not as dressed up, and the people are very honest and say, 'Look, I miss you, darlin', so I went out and I got drunk in this bar.' That's the way you say it. Where in Tin Pan Alley will say, 'Oh, I missed you darling, so I went to this restaurant and I sat down and I had dinner for one.' That's cleaned up now, you see? But country songs and the blues is like it is."
Having already established himself as a star of rhythm and blues, Charles took a chance in the face of opposition from record executives and recorded a masterpiece. The record crossed over between "black" and "white" markets, establishing a connection between two seemingly disparate groups of people during the pre-civil rights era. Despite its leanings toward jazz and R'n'B, the record has been hailed for bolstering the popularity of country music, elevating songs such as "You Don't Know Me" from country standard to just flat out standard. Willie Nelson noted that the record "did more for country music than any one artist has ever done."
Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music is one of my favorite Ray Charles records and "You Don't Know Me" remains one of my all-time favorite renditions by any singer.